Right Thought in Buddhism
Second perception of the Eightfold Path is Right Thought.
Buddha thought us that our thoughts are very powerful; they determine our mental states (such as happiness or sadness) and then our actions.
There are three classic stages to Right Thought: first, becoming aware of our thinking process; second, letting go of negative thought patterns; and third, cultivating goodwill.
As we investigate our thoughts, we can ask ourselves the following questions: “Are these thoughts benefiting me and others?” “Do they stem from kindness or from desire?” “Are my thoughts serving my heart?” “Do they connect me with life or separate me from it?” We can try saying out loud, “No, I will not follow this negative thought. I call on my inner resources to resist it.” Faced with such determination, thoughts tend to dissipate and reveal their impermanent nature.
As we begin meditation practice, it is hard to resist the temptation to follow story lines of thoughts, especially if there is a pleasant or an unpleasant drama involved. Such thoughts seem sticky, because we so easily become attached to them and forget to return to the less exciting focus of the breath.
Once we become aware of our thinking process, we can practice watching thoughts arise, moving like a cloud across the spaciousness of the mind, and passing away. We learn that we have a choice about whether or not to engage in thoughts.
In the second stage of developing Right Thought, we do not attempt to stop thinking, but we try to renounce or let go of habitual and inappropriate thoughts that do not support our wellbeing.
Because we spend hours lost in thoughts about grasping what feels pleasant or escaping what is unpleasant, we tend to miss the real pleasure in that very moment. Freeing a thought from sense desires does not mean suppressing them or pretending that they are not there. We can acknowledge sense desires and consciously release our grasp.
Right Thought is approaching every person and every situation as new and different.
In the third stage of Right Thought, we can cultivate joy, appreciation, and gratitude by praying or by focusing on counting our blessings and appreciating the qualities of those we love.
It is very interesting and important to note here that thoughts of selfless detachment, love and non-violence are grouped on the side of wisdom. This clearly shows that true wisdom is endowed with these noble qualities, and that all thoughts of selfish desire, ill-will, hatred, and violence are the result of a lack of wisdom in all spheres of life whether individual, social, or political.
Generalizations and stereotypes cloud our thinking. We are unable to see things as they really are. Right Thought is approaching every person and every situation as new and different. If we enter a new situation with a negative attitude the results will most times be negative. Anger will also distort our perceptions. Right Thought teaches us to view things with a calm mind, a mind that is in the moment and not carrying the baggage of the past. Today’s world is a prime example of the need for Right Thought. We cannot allow our anger or the misdirected actions of a few extremists to distort our view of any race, nationality or religion. To do so only extends our suffering.